7 of the Books I Read in Tent City Jail

You have a lot of time on your hands in jail. Meditating through psychological games, everyday politics/drama, and sensory deprivation isn’t easy. People often find themselves facing negative thoughts, and, although you sympathize with them, you must do your own time.

Keeping jailhouse distractions from veering you off your path means finding ways to kill time. I kept my tabs on reading and writing materials of all kind. With no Internet available, my only academic and entertainment outlet was through physical paper. Here are six of the books I read from the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s Tent City library, in order of their appearance on this list.

Digital Fortress Great Jail Reads1. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown 

A favorite author of mine, Dan Brown’s most famous work is the Robert Langdon series, popularized by the book and movie, The Da Vinci Code. Digital Fortress veers from that storyline, presenting a nearly-as-exhilarating thriller regarding the NSA. Though written in the 1990’s, the novel is surprisingly relevant in a post-Snowden world, in which Wikileaks and Anons, et. al. watch the watchmen.

Reading through the elementary-to-me encryption and security explanations in Digital Fortress, I thought fondly of Michael Crichton’s more scientific novels, wondering if this is how chemists and other PhD’s felt reading works like Jurassic Park. Or how Wiccas feel reading/watching the Harry Potter series.

2. Shutter Island by Dennis LehaneBrian Penny Jail Books Shutter Island

The last book I read during my first term, I ended up leaving Shutter Island in the holding tank of LBJ during my release processing.  A popular book, I originally came across it in Durango, then lent it to my cellie, who lent it to someone else. Upon collecting it back, I enjoyed the psychological twists and vivid descriptions, along with depictions of PTSD and the back-end horrors of loony bins.

I haven’t seen the Shutter Island movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio yet, but I’m sure the book is better. One of these days, it’ll be time for another trip to Barnes & Noble to knock books out of peoples’ hands, screaming, “the movie was more efficient!”

Great Jail Reads 50th Law Greene Cent3. The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene

Robert Greene is a modern Machiavellian writer, speaker, etc. and 50 Cent is Curtis Jackson’s superstar hip-hop persona. When these two got together to create The 50th Law, it’s clear jail is one of the places it was meant to be read.

Not a novel, this is actually a comic book (not even a graphic novel), but the lessons included are great. Jails and prisons are saturated with Christianity and other religions that encourage followers to submit themselves to a higher power. Through my attempts to find more meditative, Buddhist, and alternative spiritual reading material, The 50th Law satisfied on every level.

The 50th Law incorporates Greene’s teachings with 50’s personal story and rise to fame. Comparing the trappings of a luxury and celebrity lifestyle to those of street hustlers and drug dealers, Jackson is refreshingly insightful about his experiences, with Greene’s narratives directing readers toward actionable takeaways. Combined with the brilliant art design, this book kept me occupied during many mundane days.

Best Jail Reads Slaughterhouse Five4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is widely acclaimed as one of America’s greatest authors. Travelling through time like a Quentin Tarentino film, Slaughterhouse Five is a great military story. The wit of this novel highlights a veteran’s war stories, PTSD, and a variety of difficult subjects to discuss, especially back in the pre-Internet 1960’s.

This is one of the novels I kept with me during my in-jail travels. Obtaining books from the jail library isn’t as easy as you’d think. You can request a million books, and you’re not guaranteed a single one. You can order them through Amazon, although someone on the outside would have to do that, since you have no Internet access.

Great Book Recommendation Kitchen Witch5. The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair

From the book selection, it’s easy to tell women’s and religious groups are the ones most charitable toward prisoners. There are a lot of romance novels and bible translations. Among them I found The Kitchen Witch, though not on the first try.  This book reminded me more of an Anne Hathaway romcom than a 50 Shades of Gray-style Penthouse story.

A single dad gets a stereotypical hot-neighbor broad a job at his TV station as the host of a chef show. She’s supposedly a witch, and turns out to be more of the reality-based witch than Hollywood-based (think Hocus Pocus). The Kitchen Witch joins The Nanny Diaries on my guilty pleasure reading list.

6. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

One of the more engrossing books I read in Tent City was a sci-fi murder mystery. I kept picturing Bruce Willis in the role of Takeshi Kovacs, though I’m not sure why.

Kovacs is a former elite mercenary soldier turned private investigator in a futuristic world. Our bodies are called sleeves and are just temporary. Our consciousness is essentially uploaded into the cloud. The man who was killed is a billionaire whose wealth makes him essentially immortal. Yet he was killed and is missing 15 minutes of his memories up to that point.

Kovacs must solve the mystery of who killed the man and why, and it’s not an easy road.

Classc Novels War of the World7. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

The book is as good as the Tom Cruise movie


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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